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City Council gets one right

For once, City Council should be applauded for something it did not do.

Meeting on Thursday, Council members wisely backed away from a proposal that risked politicizing city services by freeing municipal workers from the decades-old ban on political activity.

At the same time, Council enacted important ethics measures that require lobbyists to report their spending for the first time, and that apply the city's campaign donor limits to inaugurations, transitions, and newly authorized legal-defense funds.

The proposal on political activity, spearheaded by Majority Leader Marian B. Tasco and freshmen Council members Bill Green and Maria Quiñones Sánchez, supposedly redressed free-speech concerns. Despite solid legal underpinnings for the City Charter ban on politicking, Council also contends that the ban could be overturned if challenged in court.

But the potential negative impact far outweighs any benefit from allowing city workers to wear political buttons and such. Once employees were free to hold party posts and work on campaigns, there would be no effective way to make sure they didn't do political work on city time. That's one reason the Board of Ethics strongly opposed the plan.

Council also devised a backdoor tactic that would let it overturn by ordinance such sensible safeguards as the charter requirement that elected officials quit before seeking higher office.

Tasco said Council backed off to avoid "unintended consequences," while Sánchez talked of "working to build consensus on this issue." Here's a better plan: Forget about loosening the politics ban, and get back to work on unfinished ethics reforms like a ban on nepotism and gifts, and limiting city officials' second jobs.